Cracked up streets make for one bumpy ride
Dan Kahn has lived on Hobart Road since 1976, and was there in 1980 when the city finally paved the dirt road.
In the 29 years since then, Kahn has watched the street in South Lake Tahoe’s Bijou neighborhood deteriorate, as time and snowplows have taken their toll. And the water that has pooled each year in front of his home — affectionately known as Lake Erda, in honor of his mother — has further damaged the pavement, he said.
“As you see, it’s crumbling,” Kahn said while taking a break from yard work on Thursday.
The situation on Hobart Road is not unique. Streets throughout the city are in bad shape — conditions that are not going to improve, officials say, without a steady and substantial infusion of money.
City officials are starting to take a closer look at where that funding might come from. Some possibilities being tossed around are assessment districts, parking meters, an increase in the gas tax, or even annexation of outlying areas to increase city revenue.
The city could collect a surcharge from garbage collectors, based on the wear-and-tear their trucks cause to streets, or charge more to companies that rip up the pavement for utility work. All those were ideas that the Public Works department presented to the City Council last month.
“We have to make some kind of commitment to fix this,” City Councilman Bruce Grego told the Tribune on Thursday. “If we don’t, we won’t have any more roads.”
Many of South Lake Tahoe’s streets were built before the city’s incorporation in 1965, and were built to rural standards or possibly no standards at all, according to a report by Public Works Director John Greenhut.
Since 1994, the amount the city has spent each year on repairing its streets has varied substantially, reaching a high in 2007 of $940,000. In 2000, 2003 and 2004, no money was spent at all.
After Greenhut joined the city in 2006, he oversaw the development of a Pavement Management System, which rates the condition of streets and helps the city devise a maintenance and repair strategy.
Overall, the city’s roadways are at a Pavement Condition Index of 50 on a scale of 100, meaning they’re in fair to poor condition.
It would cost $2.9 million a year to keep them at their current condition; more to improve them, according to Greenhut’s report.
If the city spends $1 million a year on its streets, the average pavement condition would drop to a score of 27 by 2024; if $5.2 million is spent each year, the condition would improve by 2024 to a score of 76, in the “good” range.
The city receives about $500,000 a year in roadway funds from the gas tax, also known as the Highway User Tax or HUTA. Other funds for road work include grants and money from state propositions, said City Manager David Jinkens.
As long as California continues to grapple with a budget crisis, the HUTA funds remain at risk from a state money-grab, Jinkens said.
In the short term, Jinkens said he’s looking at moving funds from projects that have stalled to road projects instead. Councilman Bill Crawford has suggested using some of the city’s reserve fund to pay for projects such as road repairs.
Longer term, Jinkens said a healthier city economy arising from more retail and completion of the convention center project will provide ongoing funds for street repairs.
This season’s road repairs includes work that is wrapping up on Ski Run Boulevard between Highway 50 and Pioneer Trail.
The city also plans work on Rocky Point Road between Primrose and Chonokis roads; and Lake Tahoe Boulevard between D Street and Julie Lane.
This year’s projects will cost about $570,000.
Last year, Heavenly Mountain Resort helped pay for road work on Needle Peak Road and Wildwood Avenue; but did not contribute funds this year for the work on Ski Run Boulevard. Heavenly spokesman Russ Pecoraro said the city did not request funds this year, a statement confirmed by Jinkens.
Meanwhile, the Public Works department is proposing a new street preservation treatment for the next fiscal year, said Assistant Engineer Jim Marino.
Streets selected for the treatment are those in fairly good condition, having a pavement condition score of 50 to 70, and where no utility or water-quality projects are planned in the near future that would rip up the pavement. The treatment, which involves patching, sealing cracks, and applying sealing coats, hasn’t been tried in Tahoe’s mountain environment yet. But it has the potential to increase the streets’ life by five to nine years, Marino said.
Streets in the Highland Woods and Tahoe Keys neighborhoods were identified for the treatment, which would cost $484,000. The City Council will decide whether to approve the funding as it draws up its budget for the next fiscal year, beginning Oct. 1.
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